Ruairi Quinn Announces Review of Primary School Patronage

Role of bishops in Irish education

Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, has set up a forum on patronage and pluralism in primary schools.  His statement defines the forum’s role as follows:

[To advise him]

1.   how it can best be ensured that the education system can provide a sufficiently diverse number and range of primary schools catering for all religions and none;

2.   the practicalities of how transfer/divesting of patronage should operate for individual primary schools in communities where it is appropriate and necessary;

3.   how such transfer/divesting can be advanced to ensure that demands for diversity of patronage (including from an Irish language perspective) can be identified and met on a widespread basis nationally.

On the face of it, this looks like progress in removing the bishops from control of our primary schools, but ominously, Quinn’s statement goes on to say

In undertaking this work the Forum will, in particular, have regard for the following:

  • the expressed willingness of the Roman Catholic Church to consider divesting patronage of primary schools
  • the current financial constraints within which the State is operating, the need for continued restraint into the future and the requirement in this context to make maximum use of existing school infrastructure in catering for future demands

    Clearly, Quinn is treading carefully with the bishops, and he’s also sending out a signal that the money might not be there to do a root-and-branch job, but at least it’s a sign of progress.  If his performance here is anything to go by, Quinn has already stated his position on clerical control of schools in fairly bald terms, even accusing officials in the department of being members of secret societies determined to frustrate reform.

    We’ll wait and see.

    An advisory group will hear the views put forward in the forum and advise the minister on future policy.  Its members are Dr. John Coolahan, Professor Emeritus at NUI Maynooth, Dr. Caroline Hussey, former Registrar and Deputy President, UCD and Fionnuala Kilfeather, former Chief Executive of the National Parents Council – Primary.

    These are the participating bodies in the forum, and submissions will also be invited from the public.

    An Foras Pátrúnachta

    Catholic Primary Schools Management Association

    Church of Ireland Board of Education

    Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools

    Educate Together

    Gaelscoileanna Teoranta

    Irish Catholic Bishops Conference

    Irish National Teachers Organisation

    Irish Primary Principals’ Network

    Irish Vocational Education Association

    Islamic Foundation of Ireland

    National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education

    National Parents Council – Primary


    Other posts on school patronage

    11 thoughts on “Ruairi Quinn Announces Review of Primary School Patronage

    1. There is the possibility, I’m told, that Martin may be out of touch with many of the other bishops and clergy on this one. If so, this could be highly contested within the RC Church with the more conservative elements making a strong stance. Interestingly. John Coolahan is brought in to chair it, a moderate in all respects with huge experience of primary education before he moved to teacher education. He also chaired a major forum on education under Niamh Bhreathnach. Expect fireworks from some of the more died in the wool people about this one!

    2. Ostensibly, it may appear simpler than it is. With an ear close to the ground today I can list the following as issues that may arise. Property rights of present patrons, orders, foundations etc., contracts of teachers who wish to remain within denominational schools as they originally signed up for, constitutional edict that says the state shall provide for rather just provide primary education, constitution of new boards, recognition of new patronage bodies, balance of representation on new boards, who represents parents’ viewpoints in any given school on the question of ethosThis is not to mind the larger questions of teacher education which is now totally denominational at undergraduate level and vested in private trustees dependant on public money. Plenty of red herrings or genuine issues and some with the High Court written all over them. The other issue is the duplicitousness of many people who may pay little heed to a church on a day to day basis, but would resist a secular turn when push comes to shove about their children’s education (witness Church sacraments and the turn-out for those still) .A very welcome initiative and one that is long overdue.

    3. That’s a lot of issues to untangle.

      Next, maybe Alan Shatter might revisit two laws from the Ahern era: the ludicrous blasphemous libel provision, and the exclusion of teachers from the protection of employment law when their employers are religious organisations.

    4. Irish Catholic Bishops Conference? How many RC Bishops are there in Ireland anyway and how many do you need to make a conference, if you were writing home to your mother and all that?

    5. Expect plenty more of the same. Cremin heads a state-funded college that devotes four times as many hours to religion as it does to science. Knowledge economy, eh?

    6. Control of schools, control of education. Interesting topic, but let’s not push for control of schools and education to be wrested from from the hands of bishops only for it all to fall into the lap of the state. The Irish state has been mentally and administratively lazy since 1922 and letting the R. C. Church (and the C of I etc. in the minority sphere) get on with its thing in schools, orphanages, industrial schools and hospitals was all a part of contracting out cheaply to the civil society. Nuns doing skivvy labour and skilled medical practice in hospitals and orphanages, and brothers and priests doing teaching and ‘caring’ welfare work in institutions were viewed as idealistic Cheap Labour by the pinchpenny state from the early 1920s onwards. I am not assured that the lazy state has shed its lazy mental habits yet; and I doubt that such an unreformed state will do a better job than the Church and the minority churches. Just look at what a bungling state of affairs exists in hospitals, old folks homes and child custodial homes run by the HSE in recent years. I wouldn’t like the content of education – the curriculum, the methodology and the educational ‘philosophy’ – to be controlled by the state. I’m an individualist and sort of anarchist in that respect.

    7. Bengt, that was a two way street – the Church wanted to control education, and the Church got what it wanted in the 20s whether there was a benefit to the state or not, thanks to our cowed politicians. The argument that the state would do a worse job is defeatist and ultimately not good enough. We have allowed agents of a foreign power to control education in Ireland for the furthering of their own interests for 90 odd years (raping and abusing as they went), its not good enough to say “ah sure, we’d only make a balls of it ourselves”. Plus, all the examples you give of state ineptitude, hospitals etc – what’s the other common thread in these institutions, besides state involvement – yes, church involvement. We all know the problems that beset the state, but at least it is ultimately within the power of the people to change things. This is not the case with the church. We should get them out.

    8. Bengt — The bishops don’t define the curriculum, the methodology or the educational philosophy. That’s the job of the department of education which, incidentally, also happens to pay all the teachers’ salaries.

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